The National Party’s election campaign of 2008 was notable for its relatively non-aggressive attitude to Labour, as well as its boring political advertising. Unlike in 2005 when National posed itself in starkly different terms to Labour via its iwi/Kiwi style contrast billboards, in the next election it decided to play down differences, remove humour from its ads, and to lay off criticising Labour. Campaign manager, Steven Joyce, explains why in his chapter on the National campaign in the new post-election book Key to Victory: The New Zealand General Election of 2008 edited by Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts. The blog post briefly relays Joyce’s insights into the National campaign. [Read more below]
While in the 2005 campaign National made sure that there was a ‘Clear policy definition, and a clear communication of the differences between National and Labour’, Steven Joyce says that in 2008 there was a very conscious decision to do the opposite (p.65). Most of all, there was a deliberate shift away from negative campaigning. Rather than reflecting any change of heart within the National Party, this shift was purely strategic. Joyce explains that ‘In preparing for the National campaign we listened very hard to the feedback we received from floating voters’ (p.67). That political marketing research showed that a more positive, issues-based campaign was required:
they wanted from us was to hear about our plans, not further criticism of Labour. In fact, our senior spokespeople who had been through a few campaigns were coming back to us regularly saying, “They do not want to hear about this stuff anymore. They don’t want to hear about the negative record of the Labour Party. They want to talk about what we want to do” (p.67).
Joyce says that althought there’s always an element of people disliking negative politicking, in 2008, he says, ‘it was almost all-pervading’. Labour, by contrast, went ultra-negative, which surprised and delighted Joyce, who says ‘they surprised even us with their degree of negativity’ (p.66), and that ‘It did help us that Labour went negative – far more negative than we had anticipated’ (p.68).
Joyce says that this new approach ‘attracted criticism from our core supporters and the media throughout the campaign because they wanted to have a scrap’ (p.68). National was ‘attacked for being boring and lacklustre’. But this didn’t stop National from deviating from a winning formula.
The National campaign took the tactical call to approach Helen Clark’s office to discuss having head-to-head debates rather than participating in debates with every party leader. The media ran it as her office approaching us, and we didn’t quibble (p.69).
Such strategic nous shows why Joyce is likely to be running the show again in 2011.
Table of contents
Preface - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
Overview of the Election
2008: Key to victory - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
2008: The last baby-boomer election - Colin James
2008: Leadership during transition - Jon Johansson
Political Party Perspectives
National - Steven Joyce
Labour - Grant Robertson
The Greens - Catherine Delahunty
ACT - John Boscawen
The Maori Party - Rahui Katene
The Progressives - John Pagani
United Future - Rob Eaddy
New Zealand First - Damian Edwards
New Zealand’s party system: a multi-party mirage? - Jennifer Curtin and Raymond Miller
2008: Images of political leadership in the campaign - Claire Robinson
2008: Media coverage of the election - Babak Bahador
2008: The international media and the election - Aljoscha Kertesz
2008: The campaign in cyberspace - Nicola Kean
2008: The YouTube campaign - Rob Salmond
2008: Voting behaviour and the keys to victory - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
2008: The impact of the Electoral Finance Act - Bryce Edwards
2008: Opinion polls and prediction markets in New Zealand - Shaun McGirr and Rob Salmond
2008: National’s winning strategy - Therese Arseneau
Key to Victory: The New Zealand General Election of 2008
Levine, Stephen (ed)
Roberts, Nigel (ed)
Victory is the
story of the New Zealand general election of 2008, in which the experienced and
long-serving prime minister, Helen Clark, was ousted by a political newcomer –
National’s John Key.
Veteran academic commentators Colin James, Jon Johansson, and Therese Arseneau offer perspectives on what New Zealanders were voting for when endorsing John Key and National, and what they were voting against. Several MPs elected for the first time in 2008 provide first-hand accounts of their parties’ campaigns, including Labour’s Grant Robertson; the Greens’ Catherine Delahunty; the Maori Party’s Rahui Katene; ACT’s John Boscawen; and the director of National’s winning campaign, Steven Joyce, appointed to Cabinet following National’s victory. New Zealand First’s doomed campaign is described by its campaign director, Damian Edwards, while party strategists John Pagani and Rob Eaddy provide accounts of the Progressive and United Future campaigns.
Key to Victory also investigates the important issues of the 2008 election, such as the impact of the Electoral Finance Act, and the likely future of New Zealand’s remaining small parties.
During the 2008 campaign political parties started getting to grips with websites, blogs, Facebook and YouTube, and ‘prediction markets’ competed with traditional polls in forecasting the election results. The book describes these developments and provides insights into the use of the media by John Key and Helen Clark in their rival campaigns for leadership. International reaction to the New Zealand campaign and the country’s vote for change is also highlighted.
Key to Victory includes a special DVD with excerpts from key campaign events including the televised leaders’ debates, the leaders’ opening night campaign addresses, parties’ TV ads and campaign billboards.